A Look at Metro Detroit’s Cigar Bar Culture

It’s about so much more than stocking a lounge with stogies and spirits.
Churchill’s offers an elevated cigar bar experience with locations in Birmingham, Grosse Pointe Woods, and West Bloomfield. // Photograph Jacob Lewkow

Whether or not he was the originator of the phrase “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” Sigmund Freud was a connoisseur of fine cigars all of his adult life, even though they contributed to his death by oral cancer. Perhaps Freud enjoyed the ritual of a cigar: the careful cutting of the end, leaving just enough room for a clean draw of tobacco smoke, the lighting of the match, with a brief flare and a rapid puff-puff-puff to keep the ember burning evenly.

Freud knew that the experience of a good cigar has as much to do with the environment in which it is enjoyed as it has to do with the tobacco or the shape of the cigar. Were he still with us, he might be perfectly comfortable in one of metro Detroit’s luxurious cigar lounges. Cigar bars are a haven from everyday life, but they’re increasingly an egalitarian haven, open to anyone with an appreciation for a fine smoke and a refined drink.

One of those guests is Erik Anderson, a St. Clair Shores native. He has been enjoying cigars since his father helped him choose his first one on a trip to Aruba when he was 18. Since then, Anderson has met up with a diverse group of friends at cigar lounges across town. Sometimes, they’ll go to La Casa Cigar and Lounge in Harmonie Park downtown; other times, it’s Churchill’s in Grosse Pointe Woods or Birmingham, or Robusto’s Cigar Bar and Bistro in Sterling Heights. The experience at a good cigar bar is always “very laid back,” he says. “We’re there to decompress and enjoy a cigar and maybe have a drink or two” rather than to light up the town.

For Anderson, a good cigar bar has a well-stocked humidor; a variety of seating options, including sofas and comfortable chairs; great food and drink service; and a good bourbon. Equally important is the person he calls “The Guy”: the person who greets guests, assists them in choosing a cigar to fit their mood, and helps them cut or light it if requested.

At The Loft Cigar Lounge in downtown Farmington, The Guy is actually two guys: owner Donovan Singleton and manager Joe Schubert. Singleton opened The Loft in May 2019 and has done some educating, some guiding, and some myth-busting for his customers. “Cigars have a connotation that’s sort of ‘hoity-toity’ and being a men’s club. The intent was something a little less pretentious” with The Loft, Singleton says, and a lot more diverse. He sees plenty of women in The Loft, including on its Thursday Ladies’ Nights. His guiding principle is to have a lounge that is open “for cigar aficionados who smoke all the time or for people who have no clue what they’re doing but are interested and want to learn more about it.”

Singleton and Schubert welcome guests and offer advice, for those looking for it, on cigar styles and flavors as well as drink pairings. The idea that all cigar smokers drink Scotch or other whiskeys is “absolutely a myth,” Singleton says.

“Everybody’s body chemistry is different,” Schubert says. “Everybody experiences things differently. With a very short conversation, I can learn a lot. With just a few prying questions, you can really set someone up for success with the proper pairing.” Schubert likes to pair cigars with whiskey or an old- fashioned; Singleton prefers an aged rum. Both agree that there’s no wrong answer when pairing drinks and cigars. Cocktails, Cognac, and coffee all go equally well with a cigar if that’s what a customer wants.

One nonnegotiable at The Loft and all cigar lounges, Schubert says, is that “it’s a cigar lounge, not a cigarette lounge, not a vape lounge.” That’s not just good etiquette; in fact, it’s the law in Michigan that only cigars can be smoked in cigar lounges. Lounges must also derive at least 10% of their income from the sale of cigars and smoking paraphernalia or rental of humidors. That’s why it’s also good etiquette, even if they bring their own cigars to smoke, for guests to buy a cigar to enjoy later when they visit a lounge.

That’s a small entry fee for the high-end service and luxury experience offered by a well-run cigar lounge. And The Guy will usually be happy to help curate the experience from selection to pairing to smoking. It’s all part of the service, Singleton says, and a reflection of his mission: to help customers “know better, smoke better.”

This story originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. To read more, pick up a copy of Hour Detroit at a local retail outlet. Our digital edition will be available on June 6.